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Pivot to Asia
Duterte Says He’s Sorry

President Duterte may have apologized for calling President Obama a “son of a whore,” but the problems with U.S. strategy on China when it comes to the Philippines are about more than just a few off-color remarks. The Washington Post has an excellent backgrounder on the episode. “First,” writes Emily Rauhala for the Post:

…this is about the drug war, not Duterte’s language.

When Duterte was running for office, he promised an all-out war on drugs. What he has delivered is a war on suspected drug users, dealers and their families. An estimated 2,400 people have been killed in two months. […]

Duterte is not particularly interested in talking about human rights—he has said as much. Now, because he cursed out Obama’s mother, he doesn’t have to; instead of apologizing for overseeing executions, he can say sorry for his dirty mouth.

And second:

U.S.-Philippine ties are no sideshow.

Duterte may find it amusing to use an anti-gay slur to refer to the U.S. ambassador and to insult Obama’s mother, but his comments play to a potent strain of anti-U.S. sentiment—sentiment that could shift the balance of power in the South China Sea.

Nonetheless, there may be a workaround for handling this important ally and its unbalanced leader: Let Japan be the middleman. Andrew Browne writes for the WSJ:

Usefully for Washington, Mr. Duterte has a soft spot for Japan; Japanese businesses have poured investment into Davao. In Laos, Messrs. Abe and Duterte on Wednesday reached a deal for Japan to give the Philippines two patrol ships and lend it as many as five surveillance planes. Some analysts see Japan playing a bridging role between Washington and Manila.

The aforementioned human rights qualms in the United States and post-colonial resentment in the Philippines make it awkward for Washington and Manila to work together. To be sure, Filipinos also have bitter memories of the Japanese occupation during World War II, but it should nevertheless be easier for Japan to step in.

In Japan, some nationalists long for the day that their country can emerge from the U.S. shadow as an independent great power; for other Japanese, worries about China are a major preoccupation. There are plenty of Japanese, then, who would be happy to take a greater interest in the Philippines. If Abe can keep Duterte in the U.S. alliance bandwagon, so much the better.

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  • Kevin

    Abe may be seen as a more reliable ally than Obama. If Duarte’s going to ruffle nationalist feathers, he might as well get a reliable ally out of the bargain.

  • Jim__L

    Where did the anti-Americanism of the Philippines come from? During the Marcos / Aquino election, PJ O’Rourke reported that the Filipinos had an “unrequited love affair with America”. Have the old feelings of gratitude for MacArthur’s return faded into history?

    • Observe&Report

      It goes back a bit further than that.–American_War

      • Jim__L

        Yes, I’m familiar with that, but I thought that more recent experiences had washed that away somewhat. Maybe not.

    • Nevis07

      It definitely is a valid question. I don’t have answer though I think you’re on to something with the US pushing universal values on the rest of the world.

      Having said that, at what point did conservative Republicans fall in love with Russia. Trump is the obvious answer. The reality is that Americans may admire Putin’s take action for Russian citizens stance, but are hardly fond of his strategic goals and policies. Likewise, Filipinos consistently rank as having very positive attitudes towards toward Americans though I doubt they like Americans poking our noses in their domestic affairs.

      I suppose people are full of contradictions… No simple answer I guess.

      • Jim__L

        Instead of pushing (not really actually) universal values, *recognizing* universal values is more useful. I think we’d be getting farther with the old “Family of Man” narrative than SJW’ing these days.

        I think that many conservative Republicans may long for the days when we had an enemy we could combat with a clear conscience, who didn’t go whining to the UN or sneaking up on us with mass-casualty attacks. (Sneaking up on us with good old fashioned cloak-and-dagger is OK, but if that recent “War in Peace” article is any indication, we have hustle a bit to get our game back up to its old standard.)

        I’m reading a book on management that recommends a “noses in, fingers out” approach to subordinates. It’s almost sounding like a lot of people around the world prefer a “noses out, fingers in” approach on the part of the US.

        Yeah, people are people, and will never fail to fascinate. History will never end.

  • Andrew Allison

    If the MSM were worth the powder to blow it to hell, it would have reported that the Tagalog expression used by Duarte does not have the connotation it does in the West. A responsible press might also have suggested that the remark was prompted by being criticized by those responsible for, e.g., the catastrophe in the Greater Middle East. Should we compare body counts?

  • FriendlyGoat

    Obama’s return message, if any, should be to the Philippine people, not to Duterte.

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